Earlier this month, FCC Chairman Michael Powell suggested that the ubiquity of newsgathering and disseminating might have supplanted the need for a national early-warning system. Point being that you don't need to tell broadcasters to drop everything and convey vital information because there is already such a system: competing news operations on alert and on-air 24/7, with massive redundancy already built in, in the form of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, Fox News Channel. … You get the idea.
But that system doesn't work if the government itself compromises it, which is currently the case with the FAA ban on news helicopters in and around major U.S. cities.
Last week, in the immediate aftermath of the plane crash in New York, TV news choppers were kept far away, with initial pictures confined to a distant plume of smoke. "This was the kind of story that would have been told better if the helicopters were in the air," said Radio-Television News Directors Association President Barbara Cochran. "Mayor Giuliani said he'd been flown in by helicopter to the scene and described all the things he'd been able to see. It's a shame the public couldn't see what the mayor saw."
The week before, during a police chase in and around Dallas involving a stolen truck, the news helicopter providing coverage helped give area viewers a continuous early warning. Throughout that coverage, anchors also warned viewers that, if the chase entered the no-fly zone, coverage would have to be broken off due to FAA restrictions. Fortunately, police stopped the truck before the FAA stopped the coverage.
Mary Tyler Moore, one of the new members of the BROADCASTING CABLE Hall of Fame, suggested at the induction ceremony last week that her selection had prompted some existential pondering. "I was thinking: Who am I?" she said. After surveying her co-honorees, she said she had come up with an answer: "I am ... the weakest link." Hardly.
What she was was one of the industry luminaries whose presence, in yet another trying day for New York and the country, gave new meaning to the class of 2001. They were class all the way. It almost didn't happen. The day of the dinner—Nov. 12—was the day the plane crashed in New York. We could hardly have blamed anyone for bowing out. Few did, and the result felt like a family gathering and a respite from troubled times.
The ceremony was a combination induction and birthday party for the magazine, so we'd like to take this opportunity to send out our thank yous all at once. Thank you.
What distinguishes an open society from one that is veiled? We've been thinking a lot about that lately. One answer is that, in an open society, people are allowed to see themselves, warts and all. Or, in the following example, no warts and all. ABC wins the most bald-face sweeps-stunt-of-the-year award for its broadcast of the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, sponsored by, who else? Victoria's Secret (think slim and slinky synergy). The night was capped at 11 by a local "news" follow-up on lingerie, at least on the ABC affiliate in D.C. It wasn't great TV, or maybe even good, but it was as American as apple pie—or should that be American Pie?
You gotta love this country … sometimes in spite of itself.